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City approves more airline fee waivers

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The Roswell Air Center has stored up to 500 commercial airline planes during the pandemic, with some seen in this photo provided by the city of Roswell. (Submitted Photo)

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The city of Roswell will waive an estimated $109,000 in aircraft storage fees for American Airlines Inc., the City Council decided at its Thursday night meeting.

The governing body voted 10-0 to approve waiving November fees of $54,248 and December storage fees estimated at $55,000.

On Dec. 10, City Manager Joe Neeb had told city councilors that staff made an administrative decision in November to forego collecting October storage charges totaling $58,608. But he said he wanted the City Council to decide about the other two months.

“Because it is over the $60,000 mark when you cumulatively put these together, I would like to have City Council approval for November and December,” Neeb said.

The decision to waive the fees grew out of discussions this fall and winter between area government and business leaders and Roswell’s only commercial airline service. Those discussions began after American made an Aug. 20 announcement that it would suspend flight service here and at 14 other smaller U.S. cities from Oct. 7 until at least Nov. 3 because of the dire financial pressures the company was under due to the coronavirus crisis.

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Mayor Dennis Kintigh and other area business and government leaders were able to persuade American Airlines to keep the flights to and from Dallas going, and they made clear that the city was willing to consider providing money or other financial incentives to the airline if necessary to ensure that service continued uninterrupted.

In approving the storage fee waivers, Neeb told city councilors that the revenues arose because of the pandemic and were never budgeted as part of the city’s general fund. The waivers, therefore, would not decrease the general fund.

Also, he and Kintigh noted that the stored planes benefit Roswell in several ways, including creating work for the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) businesses that perform required maintenance on the aircraft.

Councilor Angela Moore asked if waivers would be needed in the future. Neeb said he wasn’t sure. He also said the city has not received a guarantee that American will continue its flights here in future months.

American and other U.S. airlines received $16 billion in grants from the second major federal coronavirus aid package, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 signed into law Dec. 27. The legislation indicates that airlines are to receive similar amounts as they did from the first aid package. In American Airline’s case that was $5.8 billion, which included loans.

The city would like to boost its two daily flights to and from Dallas back up to three and to have its daily flights to Phoenix resume. The Phoenix routes were cut in April.

“What we asked for is for them to sit down with us because we would really like to have those flights back,” Neeb said. “We did get that guarantee, that there will be future conversations with that.”

Stacy Day, a media representative with American Airlines, said that all of the cities that had flight service interrupted have been able to resume service with American. She said she did not have any information to share about future Roswell service and chose not to answer other questions about waivers.

Senior writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.